The Three Weeks & Tisha B’Av: Old Mourning and New Mourning

By Rabbanit Bracha Jaffe
Beth Tfiloh Community Educator
Many of us have experienced the timeline of mourning for a parent — the year of avelut. It begins with a week of intense mourning during shiva, followed by shloshim – finishing 30 days of diminished mourning when the mourners rejoin the outside world while keeping their social interactions and rejoicing with music to a minimum. For a parent there is one more phase which is the Year of Mourning. During the rest of the first year, the mourning restrictions are again stepped down. The mourner refrains from attending public musical gatherings, such as weddings, and Kaddish is said in a minyan, three times a day until the end of the eleventh month.
 
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, one of our greatest Jewish scholars and thinkers of the 20th century, explains that these mourning practices give structure and shepherds the mourners through a year of new mourning. The grief is most sharp and tangible right after the loss and the mourners are cocooned and held as they slowly transition back to their everyday life and try to make sense of their loss.
 
However – what do we do with old mourning -- the centuries-old mourning of the collective Jewish people? Each year during the summer months, we mourn the destructions of our two Temples during a period known as the Three Weeks, bookended with fast days of the 17th day of Tammuz (Sunday, July 1) and Tisha B’Av (Saturday night, July 21 and Sunday, July 22). 
 
The Rav explains: our sages were very wise. There is no sharp pain for old mourning. It is difficult for us to feel the visceral loss of the Temple as we do not have a sense of its presence and centrality to Jewish life. But we must mourn their destruction and weep over their loss. This is done by flipping the timeline of avelut and gradually adding more mourning practices over this period. 
 
We start with the Three Weeks where the restrictions are as follows: no weddings or haircuts, no concerts or musical outings. The next stage is the Nine Days: no meat or wine, no swimming for pleasure or listening to music. This period of communal mourning culminates with the most intense day of mourning on Tisha B’Av: sitting on low stools like mourners, no washing or wearing leather shoes, no studying Torah, no perfumes, no marital relations. In addition, there is no eating or drinking for 25 hours which helps rid us of distraction and feelings of privilege. It is on this day that we vividly mourn the loss of the Temple as a community with lamentations and sad poems. May we all be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and may we merit the full rebuilding of Jerusalem speedily in our day. 
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